“Gotta be perfect, huh? Must be nice to have the time to always be so perfectly put together.” This statement was casually tossed at me through an open window as Tracey passed by my car just after regular drop off time at my kids’ school.

My 8-year-old daughter starts school a bit earlier than her 7- year-old brother and she had oh-so conveniently missed the school bus due to her uncanny ability to always need to poop just minutes before the bus arrives.  This is always a major event that involves getting completely naked while watching YouTube videos on her Kindle. In stressed out Mom terms this means that she becomes completely unaware of time as I watch the clock tick, tick, tick towards a possible late arrival to school ……. again. Usually, during this time my 13-year-old is repeatedly texting me from school about important topics like how she is unsure of the exact size Lululemons she should ask her Grandparents to buy her for her Birthday. Biology class would be a good concern right now my dear. Teachers, please confiscate her phone. Seriously I am totally OK with this.

Inevitably we will make it to the car with minutes to spare before someone realizes that they forgot some random item that they suddenly decided is their most prized possession and it must absolutely accompany them to school today or it will be a major travesty. The clock keeps ticking. My son has lost his shoes. Tick, tick, tick. Don’t raise your voice. Don’t lose your shit. If the kids are being belligerent, empathize and realize they are having big feelings that need acknowledgment. Give them choices because there is time for that when it is 8:15 and you should have been at school already. Acknowledge their feelings in a calm way that will not force them into years of therapy as adults but for God’s sake just BE ON TIME!

Today we miraculously DID manage to arrive at school on time after the ill-timed morning poop extravaganza. I had successfully wrangled what seemed like a wild herd of kittens into the car without having ever raised my voice. Fragile soul harming had been averted! We effortlessly made it through the drop off line which can be super stressful when you have kids that: don’t easily separate from their parent; can’t physically undo their own seatbelt; can’t keep essential clothing on their bodies; or just can’t easily wrap up that super important dissertation on Pokémon characters, you know…..because he is only 7 and that is his current everything.

Earlier at the house, my son’s clothes had been inside out and when he changed at my suggestion, he decided that he looked awesome wearing his clothes backwards instead. I allowed him to leave the house that way to avoid another power struggle that would inevitably cause us to be late. I was glad for a smooth and on time drop off transition, and now I had only just convinced him to wear his clothes properly. Yes, I am also the Mom whose kid often needs to get dressed or brush their teeth in the car too. Whatever works.

I had only just pulled into a visitor parking spot to apply some makeup when Tracey happened by. Michael was in the back seat playing on his Switch and I had planned to allow him to do this for the next 15 minutes, with a 5-minute warning before his start time. I’m sure his use of electronics while I seemingly ignored him to “pamper” myself may have fueled her comment. Later, a mutual friend would confirm for me that this WAS her issue with me. I had been up since 5:30 am and yet somehow, despite no shower, no food and having never gotten myself dressed, I barely delivered my younger daughter to school on time. I JUST NEEDED A BREAK.

I drank my coffee, which was now lukewarm because well ….. what fun would HOT coffee be for a busy Mom? Hot coffee is way overrated. I often get myself ready in my car before a day of running errands, attending school meetings, etc. It always boosts my mood to look in the mirror and not see a reflection of how exhausted I truly am and it’s also a bit rejuvenating to just pause in my car while listening to some music and drinking my tepid coffee because not warmish coffee is better than no coffee.

My morning prettification routine is done for nobody other than myself and it’s like caffeine for my soul.  It is my self- imposed time out and most of the time it is my only pause in a day. I stretch my time out when I can and sip that terrible coffee while organizing my thoughts and plans for the day. I am always half-expecting school security to pause by my car announcing “Ma’am, we have had enough of your suspect primping. Please move along!”

If Tracey was simply joking about the unfair societal expectations put on women to always maintain EVERYTHING, then yes ….. I concur. We are somehow expected to not be THAT Mom who shows up to school drop off in PJ’s despite having been up since 5:00 am to singlehandedly get three children off to school at three different times with no time for oneself. All papers should be signed, and nutritious lunches must be packed but don’t do that whole Bento Box thing or you will be considered as too “extra.” We must be well-groomed, have a great physique and generally just look like a MILF…… but not too MILF-ish; within appropriate limits to not offend at school functions. OK. Maybe not MILF worthy but at least presentable. (i.e. not my usual sweats that are actually pajamas in a not so clever disguise) We should only look nice of course, if it isn’t at the expense of wasted, precious morning moments with our children. We also may only devote those few minutes to ourselves after having fed our kids a well-balanced, dairy-free, gluten-free, low sugar, non-GMO breakfast served with freshly squeezed juice made from oranges grown by magical faeries shooting moonbeams out of their butts.

After my children have eaten every healthful morsel without complaint, they will readily clean their places (and not at all leave trails of smashed food underfoot) because how else will they ever learn to be respectable members of society without household chores? My home will be immaculate when I leave, and my children will have been fulfilled at having special morning bonding time with Mommy sans argument or conflict. They will be well dressed, nicely groomed and cooperative. My children’s exemplary behavior and ability to listen the first time around will only be due to my proper parenting style because, in case you haven’t heard, children only misbehave when their parents don’t discipline properly (please insert eye roll here). We will be on time. We will also not hold up that drop off line. Oh yeah…..and then I wake up.

I only “know” Tracey by sight from occasional school functions. I have seen Tracey’s well behaved, fully put together children as they independently spring from the car with a truly heartfelt shout of “Mommy I love you.” They walk into school at a proper pace; neither running nor loitering. I am slightly envious as one of my children has most likely lost his shoes in the 5-minute drive to school and is probably dangling halfway out of the car, caught in the seatbelt in a futile attempt to exit the car despite my telling him numerous times that it is not his turn. The second child is probably too busy yelling at my horrible parenting choice of not allowing her 8-year-old self to have the latest iPhone and doesn’t realize that we are holding up the drop off line. Yes, I am THAT parent. The line holder upper.

It was nice one year ago to finally have an independent High Schooler with both of my younger children taking the bus together for the first time after basically ten years of having to drive children to and from school, often at three different times. This lasted about one month before it became obvious that my son (Kindergartener at the time) needed a different arrangement, to start his day off in a more positive manner. This meant that I would have to drive again. Before I was able to have any official diagnosis for my son, I had been THAT MOM with the always tardy child. Before a diagnosis that enabled me the ability to request accommodations, I had also been THAT Mom with no choice but to brave the drop off line in a bundle of nerves realizing success was a total crapshoot. Would today go seamlessly or would today be the day that my pajama bottoms fall off in public as I wrestle my child to safety from catapulting himself into oncoming traffic?

Am I slightly envious of the Moms who appear to have an easier drop-off? Possibly. Also, willing to be your biggest champion. Tell me your methods. Hear my story and I will hear yours. We cannot assess a situation by a two-minute snapshot as we pass one another in a parking lot. Maybe your morning was actually pure hell, but I too am only seeing that rare window of synchronicity. We just don’t ever know someone’s story. Let’s all just appreciate each other as we are; differences and all. You do you. I will do me. Hopefully, we can learn from each other. Maybe we can look deeper than what we see on the outside and we can all just admit that we all struggle.

Tracey, there is no way that your life isn’t sometimes maddening too. You are beautiful in your messy bun. I can never seem to master that one with my unruly curls. How about we go grab ourselves some HOT coffee together and laugh a bit. I see your pajama pants peeking out from under that long winter coat and they’re seriously cute.

Jenn Miele Leslie lives in Woodbridge, CT with her husband, three children ages 7, 8 and 13 and a stubborn but cuddly bulldog who likes to fart and snore. Originally from Long Island, N.Y. (yes, that is how you say it – if you are from there you understand) she misses being able to find a decent bagel. Once an Art Therapist specializing in working with adults with various developmental disabilities, Jenn now spends her days shuttling kids to school, dance competitions, occupational therapy and what feels like one million additional places on a daily basis. In her occasional down time, Jenn enjoys photography, painting and an iTunes playlist that boasts way too many 90’s alternative songs.

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